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No Plan B to fall on

There was a rumor at the beginning of the impeachment brouhaha, attributed to those close to the center of action, which I dismissed at the time because I could not believe anyone could be so stupid or arrogant. But now I am not so sure.

What was the rumor? That there was no need for intense preparation and study before charges were filed, because Chief Justice Renato Corona, like then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, would resign rather than face trial. So why go through all the trouble of doing the needed homework? Just throw the book at him, then drag his name through the mud to speed up his resignation—which must have been the reason for all those pre-trial press conferences and post-trial-session-mortems.

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So when Corona dug in his heels, there was no Plan B to fall on. To make it worse, some of the prosecution witnesses they presented were either uncooperative or had no personal knowledge of what they were testifying to; moreover, some of the evidence they presented were of doubtful provenance and in any case seem to have been obtained only AFTER the charges were filed, with some being obtained during the trial itself, with the aid of some senator-judges.

The prosecution’s case was also hurt by some decisions of the impeachment court (e.g., no subpoenas for the Supreme Court justices as well as the Corona wife and children, if memory serves; no defiance to the high court’s temporary restraining order on the foreign currency accounts).

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The combination of lack of preparation and trial setbacks came to a head, with the rest of the prosecution’s “100 witnesses” failing to materialize. The prosecution was left with two choices: Withdraw the five other complaints—which had even weaker bases than the three already presented—or face the specter of even greater public humiliation which would be captured on TV for posterity if they tried to wing it.

Given that some of them are facing reelection or election to other positions, discretion must have been the better part of valor, and they chose the first course. Besides, the withdrawal of the charges could be given a favorable spin—for example, they could say (outside of the court, of course) that prosecuting the other charges in a long-drawn-out trial would needlessly keep attention away from other burning issues, particularly because a strong case had already been made. Penultimately, they may be thinking that they have already won in the court of public opinion, where they were blaming their setbacks on mere “technicalities” (which goaded Sen. Miriam Santiago to lecture them on due process and equal protection) and proclaiming Corona’s guilt.

And if, horror of horrors, Corona is acquitted, they still will have one last card to play, or one last hope: that Corona will resign anyway because while he will have the legal right to remain in office, his moral leadership will be mortally impaired.

I can deal with that last hope in short order: If Corona didn’t think there was anything legally or morally wrong with his accepting a midnight appointment, does anyone really think that he will have any compunction about continuing in office if acquitted?

As to the hope of the prosecutors that they have already won in the court of public opinion, they may be in for a big surprise: According to the Laylo Report (Pedro “Junie” Laylo is a respected pollster; google him), a national survey of 1,500 Filipino adults (error margin: +/- 2.6 percent) covering the period Jan. 28-Feb. 6 shows that 86 percent of Filipinos will respect whatever decision that the Senate impeachment court will make in the Corona trial. This, even though close to half (47 percent) were undecided about the Senate’s fairness (only 17 percent said they are not, while 34 percent think they are). It would seem that the public—at that point, anyway—wasn’t buying any of the PR being foisted on it by either side, even as it was admitting that it was not as competent as the Senate to render judgment. How about that?

What is more, according to the Laylo Report, only the charge that Corona has shown partiality to the Arroyo administration (one of those withdrawn) is considered credible by close to half of those surveyed. They seem to be withholding judgment on the credibility of the other seven.

Of course, public opinion may have changed in less than a month. Can’t wait for the next Laylo Report. But it still looks like the public isn’t about to take matters into its own hands, or be easily gulled, one way or the other.

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Thus, the only hope for Corona to be kicked out of office lies with the Senate, and one can only imagine, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the kind of pressure/negotiations/quid pro quos that may be taking place, for and against conviction/acquittal.

Which is where I think the Iglesia ni Cristo rally that took place on Tuesday comes in: If pressure is being exerted by the executive branch, the INC may have seen fit to remind all and sundry that it is a political force to contend with. What the effect will be on the Senate vote, I am neither able nor willing to make a guess.

In the meantime, there seems to be a character assassination campaign against Supreme Court Associate Justice Meilou Sereno. The spectacle of the President and the Chief Justice in a mudfight is disgusting enough. But making it appear that Sereno is to P-Noy what Corona is to GMA is the pits. Her CV spoke for itself when she was a candidate for the high court. And I still think that her appointment is one of P-Noy’s biggest achievements. I only ask that one read her decisions/dissents (I have) before passing judgment. The country needs more like her.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, defense, featured column, laylo report, prosecution, resignation
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